By Angie Fenton | Photos by JD Dotson and Grant Vance
The riverfront view in Jeffersonville just got even better with the addition of Portage House, 117 E. Riverside Drive, a restaurant featuring Midwestern cuisine – and oysters; oh, the oysters! – as well as plenty of local-to-Indiana products.
Housed in a home built in the 1870s, the goal was to create “a welcoming atmosphere,” said Chef Paul Skulas, most recently of Holy Grale and Gralehaus in Louisville. “We focused on creating a vibe more than (being known for) an exact dish.”
Part of Doers LLC, whose first project was Citizen 7 in Prospect, Portage House boasts several large windows that allow natural light to stream in, which helps to create an inviting environment. The “majority of the design was (conceptualized) through Alex Tinker, one of the Doers partners,” Skulas said. Nathan Weaver of StrADegy Advertising Group “was the main designer.” (Note: Looking for a way to repurpose an old painting or print? Weaver’s talents, on display throughout Portage House, will give do-it-yourselfers and Pinterest lovers plenty of inspiration for your own homes. Simply put, what he’s done is really, really cool.)
The view of the Ohio River, especially from the second floor, is lovely no matter the weather, but what stands out the most about Portage House is Skulas’ simple, sincere execution of the dishes on the menu. “We’re not overly pretentious,” he said, which is an understatement. Skulas makes food that is accessible to nearly everyone, regardless of pocketbook or palate. Though, don’t mistake that for being ordinary, because the menu is anything but.
Raw radishes paired with nothing more than butter and salt are a popular appetizer (just try them; you can thank us later).
Unaltered vegetables are the stars in the Raw Vegetable Salad – served with an herb vinaigrette, pear and feta – which made one nearby diner exclaim, “My god, this is good!”
Other highlights include the absolutely wonderful Roasted Oysters, Whole Roasted Cauliflower, Boneless Half Chicken, and Indiana Steak, which comes in two sizes.
Skulas’ go-to dish is Bucatini: spicy nduja sausage, shiitake, tarragon cream and parmesan, though he also favors the Half Dozen Oysters, served with mignonette and horseradish.
While on a visit during Sunday brunch, our table found the Grilled Cheese Sandwich a delectable dish of taleggio, Indiana goat cheese, fried egg and sorghum. A side of bacon from Hensley Homegrown farm was the perfect accompaniment.
The cocktail program, headed up by Bar Manager Daniel Mahony, is one of the best we’ve seen. “I approached the program off of Paul’s menu. He’s not a spoon drag kind of guy. He takes quality things and knows how to present them for what they are.”
So does Mahony.
Try a locally-made craft beer, Hop-Washed Whiskey or one of the punches that come in either 16-ounce or 32-ounce Mason jars. “They’re very conducive to being shared,” he said.
None of the menus – drinks and dishes – are extensive. That’s because Skulas “would rather do 15 things really well than 30 things mediocre. … I wanted something that was not like a Louisville restaurant. I wanted an Indiana-proud restaurant,” he said. “People really seem to be enjoying us.”
We sure did.
117 E. Riverside Drive
4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday